Leslie Bauer found an unexpected source of courage as she fought Stage 2 breast cancer this year.
Bauer, surrounded by caring family, friends and nurses, also found comfort in a plush lion toy that was a gift from a family friend who survived cancer. Now she’s passing it on to other cancer patients.
Leo the little lion helped Bauer cope with the painful side effects of chemotherapy and with her decision to undergo a double mastectomy in August. He made her smile on days when she would rather be thinking about anything besides cancer.
“He’s so cute.,” said Bauer, 38, stroking Leo’s mane. “I would bring him in with me for treatment. He gave me the strength and courage I needed.”
When friends asked Bauer what they could do to help, she asked for more lions, for others who also needed courage. During her chemotherapy at Texas Oncology Bedford, Bauer gave 65 plush lions to cancer patients and staffers who cared for them.
Bauer said it wasn’t difficult to tell who needed a friend.
“You can tell by looking at the patients’ faces. They are in pain and this is not what they want to be doing,” said Bauer, who said giving away the lions brought her indescribable joy during an emotionally trying time. “Just to see a person who doesn’t smile and then to see them smile is overwhelmingly humbling.”
Several members of the nursing staff, including physician assistant Alison Wensrich, received one of “Leslie’s Lions.”
“I didn’t expect for a lion to come to me. That made me feel really happy,” said Wensrich, who is also a cancer survivor. “She said, ‘You need courage too because you went through this.’ I keep it in my office. I see it every day. It reminds me, even though I am not a patient anymore, we all need courage as healthcare providers for our patients so we can guide them the right way and make sure we are there for them.”
Nurse Julie Pearson said Bauer’s positive attitude and compassion during her cancer treatment was inspirational. Pearson said her outreach gave patients a much-needed distraction from their worries. Each plush toy came with a little tag that said: “You need courage. I need courage too. Carry my Leslie Lion and courage goes with you.”
Pearson said: “It puts the focus on something other than what they are going through. It allows them to take their minds off their own problems and seek to give back to somebody else who is struggling.”
Bauer, who plans to go back to college after undergoing reconstructive surgery early next year, said cancer is one of the best things that ever happened to her — the support she received from Texas Oncology staffers inspired her to pursue a social work degree and becoming an oncology counselor.
“The past eight months have changed my life completely for the best. I don’t know where it came from but I was so extremely positive throughout the entire process. I think that has a lot to do with the staff just being so encouraging and supportive,” Bauer said. “The way that they were able to help me with my decisions and turn this into a positive thing, I want to do that with other people as well.”
Texas Oncology is inviting residents to share their thanks with the nurses who have touched their lives. Messages of gratitude and words of support can be posted at www.facebook.com/TexasOncology, www.TexasOncology.com/SuperThanks or on Twitter @TexasOncology with the hashtag #SuperThanks.